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Paul Ryan Medicare plan makes him a target, say NY GOPers

TAMPA, Fla. -- New York Republicans acknowledged Tuesday that Paul Ryan's selection for the No. 2 spot on the GOP presidential ticket came with a price: The Wisconsin congressman's proposals for changing Medicare make him a big target for Democratic attack ads.

"It's certainly a tricky issue," said Suffolk County GOP chairman John Jay LaValle. Said Nassau County GOP chairman Joseph Mondello: "There is a little nervousness" over the issue.

As Ryan prepares to take the spotlight Wednesday night as the main speaker here at the Republican National Convention, members of New York's delegation said the Democratic attacks can be defused by tackling the issue of Medicare's solvency head-on. The New Yorkers said they are ready to rally around Ryan, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's running mate.

Like others, state Assemb. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) stressed that Ryan's proposal is just a starting point, and that final legislation to protect Medicare will be different.

"I'm happy they are putting it out front," LaValle said. "It's got to be dealt with."

That's what former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato told fellow New York delegates at breakfast Tuesday.

"I have to tell you something about this stuff about beating Ryan up -- I have some angst, of course," he said of expected Democratic attacks.

"But the fact of the matter is that the Medicare debacle is going to continue and we're not going to have Medicare unless we continue to deal with the problem," D'Amato said. "It's just like Ronald Reagan said, we have to deal with Social Security. And he did."

Ryan's initial proposal for Medicare drew the most fire. It would have given seniors a subsidy to buy private insurance. Democrats said it would "end Medicare as you know it," turning it into "vouchers."

Last year, Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, joined with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and modified his approach to allow seniors to stay on Medicare or opt out for private insurance.

In both proposals, the changes would not affect anyone on Medicare now or those older than 55.

New York GOP chairman Ed Cox stressed Tuesday that Ryan now is pushing a bipartisan plan that can make its way through Congress.

But Cox acknowledged the political potency of the issue, noting what he called "Medicare" ads that helped Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul win an upset in a conservative upstate New York seat last year.

"It caught us by surprise," he said. "We're prepared now."

Long Island could be fertile ground for such attacks. Some 467,000 seniors and others are enrolled in a Medicare plan for hospitals and doctors, and health care is the fastest growing job sector.

And Long Island is aging: The numbers of those 65 or older are expected to rise from about 15 percent of the population now to around 18 percent in 2020, state figures show.

A recent Siena Poll of New Yorkers statewide found that adding Ryan to the ticket made 16 percent more likely, but 21 percent less likely, to vote for Romney.

But GOP pollster Michael Dawidziak said polling on presidential issues found Medicare isn't a big issue on Long Island.

Yet, he said Democrats gain every time Republicans have to talk about Medicare instead of jobs or the economy.

Still, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Ryan must talk about his plan for Medicare on Wednesday night.

"He'll have to explain it," King said. But in his speech, "he's going to get a second chance to create a first impression" on the issue.

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